The Crew Dragon spacecraft, of Space X, company founded 15 years ago by the magnate Elon Musk, was launched at 21.22 (Italian time, 15.22 in Florida) for the mission “Demo 2”, and after ten minutes it was in Earth orbit. All data and parameters are controlled by the two astronauts, Bob Behnken, already at the controls of two Shuttles, and Doug Hurley, also a veteran of two missions, on the liquid crystal flat screens of the futuristic capsule. Which follows the old concept of capsules, but made with modern technologies. “It’s unbelievable,” said US President Donald Trump, who witnessed the launch.
America then returns to autonomy in space flights with astronauts. Nine years after the last mission of a Space Shuttle, the Atlantis, which led to the docking of an all-Italian module on the Space Station, an entirely “made in USA” spacecraft brought two US astronauts back into orbit. It may seem strange, for a space power like that of the United States. But it has been nine years of missions in which the astronauts with stars and stripes, and those of the international partners who cooperate in the International Space Station program (including Europe and Italy), have had to use the old Russian enemy’s spacecraft.
Those Sojuz, which on the other hand, despite being of an obsolete concept, still remain practical and reliable. And if the launch platform is always the historical one of the Apollo and Shuttle missions (the 39 A of Cape Canaveral), the launch structure is completely new and futuristic. No longer the old lattice walkways, which allowed astronauts to move from the ramp to the spacecraft, but a walkway similar to that of airports. The spacecraft itself is completely futuristic. Douglas Hurley and Robert Behnken are now traveling at 28,000 kilometers per hour to the International Space Station, which they will have to dock tomorrow. They still don’t know how long they will stay: it could be only 30 days, or 110. It will depend on the condition of the Crew Dragon vehicle, which will be continuously monitored.
And if this mission is the first with crew, and therefore originally born as a test flight with only two astronauts-pilots (in subsequent missions it will reach 4 or 6 astronauts), it was then decided to actually make it a mission fully operational, given that Benkhen and Hurley will remain on the ISS for a full three months. After the return, in April, of the cosmonaut Oleg Skripochka, with the two American astronauts Jessica Meir and Andrew Morgan, now in orbit remain in three, and then these two astronauts of the Space X mission will arrive to bring to five the number of those who live and work on the ISS.
Looking forward to the next Sojuz launch in October. Until now, the US space agency had to rely on the old but always efficient Russian Sojuz to send astronauts to orbit, starting from the Bajkonur cosmodrome. According to NASA plans, if Demo-2 is successful, the second Crew Dragon mission could be launched in August or September. And in the meantime, a new launch of the Falcon Heavy rocket is planned for the summer, the powerful carrier (with three stages all recoverable) destined to send large unmanned modules to the Moon and Mars. Space X came before Boeing to launch astronauts. Boeing, on the other hand, confirms, but for the summer, its first mission with the Starliner spacecraft crew: three astronauts, under the command of ex-NASA veteran Chris Ferguson (ex-NASA veteran and now Boeing), Mike Fincke and Nicole Mann.